Sony DCR-HC36 Camcorder Review



**Video Performance ***(5.1)*

The Sony DCR-HC36 is fitted with the standard 1/6" CCD, the type you could expect to find on almost any entry-level or near entry-level camcorder. This chip, like most 1/6" chips, has 680K gross pixels and 340K effective pixels.

At 3000 lux, the HC36 produced a rather poor image. Color balance was decent, and did not show over- or under-saturation, but the picture had an undeniably grainy look . Most 1/6" chip camcorders suffer from a little noise, but better performance exists in the same price class.

The Canon Elura 100, which has a slightly larger 1/5" CCD, shot an image with much more apparent sharpness and significantly lower noise levels. Color balance and saturation levels were about the same, with the Canon showing slightly better dynamic range in the greens and yellows.

Sony’s entry-level camcorder, the DCR DCR-HC26, is $50 less and has the same imaging system. The image, unsurprisingly, is essentially the same – same noise problems, color balance, etc.

The Panasonic PV-GS39 had less apparent sharpness and decreased color differentiation . It also produced Moiré patterns in the resolution trumpets when the information got too dense for the imager to handle. This did not happen in either Sony.

Finally, the JVC GR-D350 ($300) had a much less noisy image, despite the same 1/6" CCD. Saturation levels were higher, however, and some might say a little too high. The JVC’s problem was high levels of in-camera sharpening, which tended to create halos along high contrast areas, as well as stair-stepping along curved and diagonal lines. This did not happen to the same degree in the Sonys, the Panasonic, or the Canons.

In general, the HC36 is what you should expect for the price, but the Canons have a lot to offer in video performance, so be smart and compare before you buy.

Video Performance  
 Sony DCR-HC36  5.1
Sony DCR-HC26   5.1
Canon Elura 100   7.6
 Panasonic PV-GS39  5.25
 JVC GR-DF350  5.55

Video Resolution*(8.9)*

We tested the DCR_HC36’s video for its resolution, both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the HC36 produced 315.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 281.8 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 88879.72. In 16:9, the HC36 produced 336.9 lines of horizontal resolution and 208.8 lines of vertical resolution (with an average 1.05% clipping), yielding an approximate resolution of 70142.8.

Clipping occurs when a portion of the information in the still cannot be read by Imatest, in this case because the information bottomed out (red, green, and blue levels all read as "0").

The chart below shows how the HC36’s resolution stacked up against the competition. There was little difference between the 1/6" chip camcorders. The larger chip in the Elura 100 made a difference in resolution.

  Video Resolution
 Sony DCR-HC36  8.9
Sony DCR-HC26   9.5
 Canon Elura 100  15.5
 Panasonic PV-GS39  9.8
JVC GR-DF350   11.7

Low Light Performance*(3.0)*

As with all the camcorders that pass through our doors, the DCR-HC36 was tested for its performance in low light at two different light levels, 60 lux and 15 lux – in layman’s terms, "fairly dark" and "pretty near dark."

At 60 lux, the HC36 lost a significant amount of luminance and color information. It also showed a significant increase in fine grain noise. This is not surprising, considering the small size of the chip. The larger the chip, the more light can be collected and used towards low light performance. An upper-end camcorder like Sony’s DCR-HC96 has a 1/3" CCD, twice the size of the HC36’s, with excellent low light results.

The next-step-down model, the HC26, has the same imaging system, and produced more or less the same results. The Canon Elura 100, despite having a slightly large imager, produced an image that was slightly darker, and with less color differentiation. Noise levels were roughly the same.

The Panasonic PV-GS39, which has the same size imager as the HC36, produced an image with a higher brightness level overall. The colors come through stronger, but the color differentiation is not as good as the HC36. This may point to a better automatic gain function in the Sony, which creates a wider dynamic range. A final note: while the Sony and Panasonic have commensurate levels of noise, the noise is of a finer grain and less noticeable in the Panasonic.

The JVC GR-DF350 uses a potent automatic gain control (AGC) common to all JVCs, which can be turned on and off. With the AGC on, the JVC produced and image wrought with noise at 60 lux. This was not the fine grain variety, either. This noise was larger and chunky, with patches of blue appearing across the color spectrum. The colors appear slightly blown out. Unfortunately, this image is preferable to the D350’s performance with the AGC off, which is very dark.

At 15 lux, the Sony HC36 lost even more information. Colors are still discernable, but this is not what we would call a "usable image." Areas of white, however, still come through clearly, and dark lettering on white should show up just fine.

The Sony DC26 is, again, the same. The Canon Elura 100 has an equally noisy image, but unlike the 60 lux comparisons, the Canon had a better image at 15 lux. The colors were brighter.

The Panasonic GS39 compared the same as 60 lux. Brightness was about the same, but the color differentiation was not what the Sony could offer. Also, the Panasonic had some trouble focusing at 15 lux. Finally, the JVC GR-D350 (with AGC on) had a slightly darker image than the HC36, with even less color information. With the AGC off, the image was nearly black.

On the whole, the HC36 was good for its class.

  Low Light Performance
Sony DCR-HC36   3
 Sony DCR-HC26  3
 Canon Elura 100  4.75
Panasonic PV-GS39   4.75
 JVC GR-DF350  3.5

Wide Angle* (9.2)*

The Sony DCR-HC36 was tested for wide-angle field of view in both 16:9 and 4:3 formats. When recording in 4:3 the degree of view was 46 degrees, a result that was also recorded when switched into the "widescreen" 16:9 format. This camcorder produces a widescreen cinematic format by cropping the top and bottom of the image in a cropping method that will result in the user actually losing information, the antithesis of what occurs with a true 16:9 format. While a slight improvement of 2 degrees between this model and the HC26 this is hardly something to write home about.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sony DCR-HC36, take a look at these other camcorders.

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  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto/Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio/Playback/Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons/Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings